Sunday, December 31, 2006
My intention was to recap as we spend the last few hours of 2006. I started this blog the last of January 2006 with a blog about the hard frost. I listed all the jobs I had yet to do in the garden and started on my blogging journey. (I'm listening to the winds outside and I hope that the power doesn't go out before I finish this.)
February was the month in which we welcomed a bouncy puppy into the house. Polly. I'm more besotted with her today than I was with her on the day she arrived. She has thankfully stopped piddling on the carpet and she has shown herself to have a wonderful soft nature and is eager to please.
I was just reviewing an entry I made on the 13th of February. It is almost a photo of bloggers yet to come. Not only is a 20-something me in the photo with my two children. There is also a very young J-Funk and her dad, Tom and dear old friends Joe and Vickie.
March saw a trip to Arran, some observations on the love lives of local frogs, a couple of trips down memory lane, a visit from a dear old friend and some snow. I liked March.
April saw me doing a bit of work in the garden. Easter was pleasant and we booked our family vacation. I also indulged in a bit more nostalgia.
May was a very busy blogging month. 28 blog entries in 30 days! I managed to write a whole bunch about very little. We had late frosts, moved piles of logs, moved stones, Polly got spayed and the garden got underway as the chickens went into high egg production.
June saw me put tomatoes in the greenhouse and we had a big countdown to the big annual family holiday. There are loads of garden blog entries in June along with butterflies and moths.
July was very fun. We started the month in Egypt. Even though we were away for the first two weeks of the month, I managed to squeeze 26 blog entries into the month. Please have a look at the blog entries for Egypt. We had a great time and I really enjoyed writing about it.
August. There were agricultural shows, birds' nests with fledglings, my pal Helen had a baby and then at the end of the month, all the swallows pissed off for Africa again. The highlight for me in August were the cream teas held in a local village hall.
September was a glorious month. There are some good family birthdays in September PLUS we got a whole bunch of work done on the extension. There was glorious weather and I got some good stuff documented on my blog. I also switch to Blogger-beta. It was a bit of a pain in the arse at first, but I'm used to it now. Have a look at the bits I wrote about my grandfather's drug store. Great old photos!
October saw a slump in my blogging output. I don't know what happened there, but I didn't write as often. I was busy doing things like going to the local bird sanctuary to groove on the migrating water fowl. In October's blog entries an old photo of me at about 13 showed up and shows me to be just about as gawky as kids come.
November seems to be more nose to the grindstone but in addition to working pretty hard, we managed to celebrate Guy Fawkes night, say goodbye to Jack Palance, do some baking and be thankful for all of the blessings we have in our lives.
December is almost over. Just five and a half hours left. We started out our December in Paris of all places! It was my mom's 70th birthday. We had a rollicking good time. In addition, I got to meet Claude - which was completely delightful. We are ending our December with an almighty storm. I hope we don't lose any trees.
I've met some terrific bloggers through their marvelous blogs and met a few in the flesh this year. I'm hoping to meet a few more in 2007. May the Good Lord keep you all safe and well in the next year. Thanks for reading my blog.
Saturday, December 30, 2006
We used to sing that to Katie all the time when she was little. This is a photo when my dear youngest sister was about 19 or 20 and a student at the University of Iowa.
She's not 20 anymore but she is still as gorgeous. I hope she has a wonderful birthday filled with luxury gifts. If you can't have gifts lavished on you, then I hope you at least have lots of love from your husband Al and darling daughter, Claire.
I'll be thinking about you ALL day today.
Katie is one of the few people who can make me laugh so hard that I sound like Mutley.
Thursday, December 28, 2006
I lived in Iowa when I was a kid. We moved there when I was about 13 from Minnesota. A few of the memories that our Bill writes about struck the homesickness chord pretty strongly. In fact, Mr Bryson and I have been practically living parallel lives. Childhood in Iowa and then settling in the UK. We also share the same love of Bishops restaurant. For those of you who never lived in Iowa (and Bishops is gone now - so it only lives on in our memory) Bishops was a genteel buffet style restaurant. We used to go to the Cedar Rapids branch of Bishops quite often with Grandma Blaul for Sunday lunch. It was the first time in my life I had ever been confronted with a "carvery". Some Bishops employee, dressed in chef whites and chef hat, had the job of standing behind an enormous slab of prime rib and slice off a slab of it to anybody who gave him the nod. The big decision for me was, do I have mashed potatoes with my prime rib or do I have a baked potato. You see, some would say that mashed would be best, especially when you've got all those lovely juices from the prime rib waiting to mix into it. On the other hand, the baked potato came with sour cream and butter. There may be no better way to serve the humble potato in Iowa than baked with sour cream, possibly with chives and butter. (Later on in life I learned about chip shop chips but that's another story.) When you finished going through the buffet, an aproned waitress would take your tray for you and set it all out at your table. As is mentioned in the book, there were little lights in the centre of each table. If you needed anything at all, you didn't have to crane your neck to find a member of staff, you merely turned on the little light and the waitress would be at your elbow in a flash. As we were not so very sophisticated, a rule had to be enforced for us. Nobody was allowed to turn on the light without permission from an adult at the table. We would have had that light on for any reason and prevented a host of other Bishops customers from being served as everybody would have been bustling to our table, filling water glasses, bringing more jello and replacing forks.
It is not mentioned in the book, perhaps because they didn't have it in the Des Moines branch of Bishops, but our family's favourite thing was the ambrosia pie. It was a chocolate cream pie of biblical proportion. The cut the pie in to sixths so the slabs were wide. The whipped cream on the top of the pie was as high as the slab-o-pie was wide. The crust was always flaky, never sodden. It exploded with crumby goodness at the mere touch of a fork. How they ever got the pie sliced neatly was a miracle on its own. To top this pie off, it was garnished with chocolate shavings. Curls of really good chocolate that looked like they had been peeled off the mother of all chocolate bars with a potato peeler. I would leave dollars worth of prime rib on my plate so that I ensured room for the pie.
Its been almost fifteen years since I lived in Iowa. From what I read there are even fewer small family farms than there were when I left. This is SO sad. A great deal of the land has been taken over by corporate farms. Because of this, the small towns that supported the family farm are dying. It isn't going to be long before there are no more 4H clubs and Future Farmers of America. By the way, Future Farmers of America or FFA had the best jackets ever. You got one if you joined. They were dark blue corduroy with an enormous golden symbol elaborately embroidered across the back of the jacket with your state. I always wanted one but we weren't farmers. I was willing to date any member of the FFA to have access to the jacket but there wasn't a chapter in our town.
I love family farms. Though, I stated earlier that we weren't farmers, we lived on a family farm for a while. My sisters and I worked in the fields in the summer. A large proportion of our friends were from family farms. We had to know the terminology if we were to survive a bulk of the casual conversations in our town. We went to all the county fairs. Not only did we attend for the fun of the fair itself, but we had to visit our friends and see how their calves or horses did at the fairs' livestock judging. You wouldn't believe how long it takes to brush up a cow for showing at a fair. I can't remember whose cow it was, in fact, I can't remember which friend it was, but I was walking a cow around the Johnson County fair one summer afternoon and the cow, who was in season, started to jump around a bit. The silly thing stepped on my foot. I shouted and the cow moved. Thank heaven I was in the grass, it could have been a lot worse.
I always went to the poultry barn first when visiting the fair. I'm glad I did. It is years later and I know my Rhode Island Reds from my Leghorns. The craft tents held fascination for me too. I loved looking at the quilts. I later learned how to make quilts, but mine never got to a standard where they could reasonably be shown at an Iowa county fair. With the loss of family farms, is all that craft going to go too? Are folks are going to forget how to make jam and pickles? Will they forget how to make good pie crusts and preserve peaches in glass jars?
Reading Bryson's latest book also had me laughing. He's a funny guy and a sharp writer. I was still living in Iowa when his first book, Lost Continent was published. Local boy done good. Then we read the book. Dang! It was good! Funny and peppered with local references I could identify. I remember the uproar in Iowa when he stated quite casually in that book that Iowa women got fat. The trouble was that he was right, Iowa women do get fat. Some don't and some don't want to think they're fat and took great exception to the statement. I got fat when I left Iowa so go figure.
As much as I love living here and I would never move, thanks to Bill's book I am hit with a terrible wave of homesickness. Iowa is a wonderful place. You will never find a state populated with friendlier people. The landscape of rolling farmland is dull to some but nothing is more beautiful to me. It is my theory that we imprint like ducklings to the landscapes where we spend our formative years. Because of this, flat farmlands and prairies mean home to me.
A couple of old friends of mine live in Des Moines, Iowa where this book is set. They have two boys. I wonder if their boys' childhoods today are anything like the one that happened 50 years ago?
The book has hit the best seller's list. Reading it was almost like re-reading The Lost Continent for me. It was written about a place I know and know well. Perhaps now people will know what I'm talking about when I tell them where I'm from. I can say that I lived in the same place the Thunderbolt Kid lived.
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
At 10:45 we were on the motorway headed back up into Scotland when it struck. The epicentre of the quake was in Dumfries itself. Apparently it rattled windows and rattled the nerves of a few Doonhamers (Dumfries folk). It lasted about 10 seconds and then that was it. No structural damage, no broken windows, just a bunch of people saying "What the heck was THAT?"
Nothing was felt out here in our village. In fact, most didn't know there had been an earthquake until I asked them about it.
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Breakfast is the same all over the place - the first meal of the day.
Brunch (combination of breakfast and lunch - designed for Sunday late sleepers or church attendees) hasn't been found over here, though we know what it is. When in the US you know that on Sunday in any state in the union, you can park yourself in most restaurants and indulge in some genuine North American gluttony. There isn't a finer Sunday brunch better than brunch at The Amana Colonies in Iowa.
The second meal of the day is where confusion starts to occur. Lunch can sometimes be referred to as dinner. School children will often "go home for dinner" and people at work can be "on their dinner break". In the US, dinner is almost always the evening meal. Now I am not sure about regional variations, I hope that my British readers will fill me in on their own regional word for lunch. Over here, we (people who live in the UK) do recognise lunch and do have "ladies who lunch". In some circles, though not the circles in which I travel, there will be a luncheon. Pastel suits possibly with hats and gloves always spring to mind when somebody mentions luncheon.
Tea can be confusing. First and foremost is it the popular beverage served hot or cold - though here in the UK, it is mainly hot. Builders' tea is strongly brewed tea with milk and two teaspoons of sugar. I like builders' tea, but with less sugar. Most everybody who works at a regular job will have the benefit of a tea break. It is the same as a coffee break. Sometimes it will actually be referred to as a coffee break.
The British working population used to have their main meal of the day at noon or 1pm. Then they would have a light meal or tea after work. This was about 6pm. It wasn't as substantial as the main meal at the middle of the day but it was a proper meal. This was high tea. I don't know if this is still the practice anywhere, but it isn't the standard out here in the part of Scotland where I live. The third and main meal of the day is referred to as tea. Family members will often ask me what we're having for our tea? "Mum, can Gordon stay for tea?" This is all about the evening meal.
There are wonderful cream teas that can be had at our village hall on Sunday afternoons in the summer. The cream teas are sponsored by the good Christian women of the village. You get a bottomless cup of tea or coffee and a scone with jam and cream. When seated at the table there will be a plate of home baked goodies where you can help yourself. The proceeds of these cream teas go either to the general fund for the upkeep of the village hall or towards the upkeep of the church. I think they alternate years.
Supper is a light snack just before bedtime. We often have toast here at Whitelees. Sometimes, if I've baked cakes or some other little morsel, then we'll have that with a mug of tea or chocolate.
Most everybody knows that cookies in the US are called biscuits here in the UK. Biscuits in the States are scones here. Nobody would ever thank you for biscuits and gravy in the UK. Can you imagine inadvertently offering somebody cookies and gravy? Ew! Keep your terminology organized.
I use an old US recipe for biscuits supreme straight out of the Better Homes and Gardens cook book and it helps me to crank out the nicest scones in the area. The recipe is easily modified to make cheese scones (a savory delight to serve with dinner) or fruit scones with raisins and currants.
Knowing all of this, I can't bring myself to say chocolate chip biscuits. It just sounds wrong to my ears. I must say chocolate chip cookies.
One thing I did stop pretty sharpish was the American pronunciation of herbs. I say it with the "H" . The US pronunciation of "Erbs" just doesn't sound right any longer. The word has an "h" in it and in my opinion, really ought to be said. I also pronounce basil as BAAsil (as in Basil Fawlty) and not BAYsil. It took about eight years but I also now say TOmahto instead of TOmayto. I have digressed.
Sausages can be referred to as bangers. UK sausages have less meat in them than the US counterpart. I have grown accustomed to these sausages, but US pork sausages are preferred.
I'll add in more terms as they come into my head but that's all I can think of for the moment.
This was in response to a comment from Annie - a new reader from Arkansas. Welcome Annie, stop by again sometime.
Monday, December 25, 2006
Gordon was over to review George's haul and give us a synopsis of what Christmas has been like up at the farm.
Polly is showing off her sparkly new collar. It isn't as butch as her old one. More suited to her personality. There is a matching dog lead that goes with the collar too! Bill was sent a nice thick chew bone from us. We are assured that he made short work of it this morning.
Everybody got nice presents. One of the Christmas gifts was a gerbil for George. He's a white gerbil who has been named Cobain. He seems to be a perky sort of rodent. Let's hope he lives a long fulfilled gerbil-y life.
I hit a milestone with my little blog on Christmas Eve. I got to 10,000 hits on the old site meter. Who'd have thought that my little ramblings would garner any interest outside my own circle of family and friends?
The 10,000th visitor was from Mississippi and a referral from Mad Cabbie's blog. Thanks for that Mad!
Here is me toasting all my visitors with a very nice Brunello de Montalcino, Castel Gioncondo 1998. I'd been saving it for Christmas. Very nice Italian red. If you ever get your hands on a bottle, let me know, I'll be over with my glass! Note paper hat on my head from the Christmas cracker.
Sunday, December 24, 2006
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
You can also see that there aren't any skirting boards in the room just yet and the window doesn't have any curtains or blinds. We'll get there. The skirting boards (base boards) will come after Christmas and the curtains will come when I've got some time to think about what I want in there. Thankfully the only thing that looks into those windows are some pine trees across the road.
The one Christmas song that runs through my head when I'm feeling in the Christmas mood is Feliz Navidad sung by Jose Feliciano. Don't know why, but that one is my favourite.
Sunday, December 17, 2006
Thursday, December 14, 2006
In the midst of all this business, young George is munchkin number two in the school's big Christmas production. This involves ferrying him to and from school - extra trips as his school is 12 miles into Lockerbie.
I've let the house slip lately with all this busy stuff going on and today, being Thursday, Jill (our cleaner) showed up. The house was buzzing with an electrician, the plumber and the joiner (carpenter) all doing things. The carpet was rolled back in the front room and the floor boards were off. Big channels in the wall in the hallway were being cut for a thermostat. This made great piles of plaster chunks and dust. Jill couldn't get on with what she normally does. H asked her just to focus on the kitchen and clean out the fridge. In hind sight, we should have just given her a week's reprieve.
There were a few things in our fridge that should have been thrown out and some things with definite pathology growing on them. It turned her stomach. When cleaning the fridge, she was so disgusted that she may never come back.
I'm busy. I would have cleaned the fridge if I had five minutes to consider it. Now I feel not only slovenly, but judged by my cleaner and found lacking.
Monday, December 11, 2006
If when asked in their youth about what life will be like when they reach retirement age, nobody ever talks about what the aging process will have done. The focus will always be on where they are financially or how many children/grandchildren will be surrounding them. How many countries they have visited will be much more important at 20. Certainly that's what I would have spoken about when I was younger.
The wear and tear your body gets as we drag it through our lives is what is called the aging process. Had I known that it was going to start when I was 21 and pregnant, I would have never taken off my support bra, ever. Sadly my breasts never really bounced back after those two brief years of childbearing. I guess I thought they would. In my mind it was only older women who had problems with sagging breasts. I never made the connection between my current bra-free behaviour and the long term effects of gravity.
I love the sun and was out in it as much as possible in my teens. I never wore sunscreen. I may have put some on when I was working in the fields, but that would be it. Now the damage is done. The damage is deep and someday one of my little moles or freckles may do something strange and I'll have to have it seen to. That has already happened to my younger, fairer sister Kate. Now she has a self-imposed banishment from sharp sun for the remainder of her days. I don't know if I could stay away from sunshine. I do know that I am much more vigilent about sunscreen.
When we go diving, almost every single diving instructor is a smoker. Okay, they know the risks they take and the reduced lung capacity when they do that, but do they realize that your lung capacity diminishes merely by the fact that you're growing older? One day, they'll do a lung function test and either fail or not do so well as they thought. They'll put it down to the cigarettes and cut back or even quit, but the non-smokers will not have done so well either. "How is this happening?" they'll ask themselves. Its rough on people to be confronted with the harsh reality that aging happens to everybody.
Ronnie has been talking about ageism and the language that is used to sell things to make us look younger. The fact that looking younger is a prize we have to hold on to diminishes the face that we get when we get older. Why is looking older bad? Why are wrinkles to be avoided instead of anticipated? We've earned them! How to we create this change in attitude? I don't want to look 25 or even 30. I did that once. It was easy. I want to rejoice that I am still here, I survived my youth to achieve a solid middle age. I'd like to continue with the aging process thank you very much.
How often have we given the compliment that a new hair cut or item of clothing takes years off of somebody? How is it that when somebody says they look as though they've aged, they aren't being complimentary. They're small points, but it is still ageism. It is so ingrained in our culture, I don't know how we're going to fight it.
If we rant about the fact that we don't glorify elder faces, then perhaps we should start with ourselves. Develop our own aesthetic for faces that reflect the lives we are leading. Any solutions? Anybody?
Sunday, December 10, 2006
Thanks a bunch Tink!
Stop by her blog sometime. You'll find that Ms. Tink Erbell has a wonderful way of looking at things. She's funny in a wonderfully self-deprecating way. Find out how she and her partner "Hoop" have just sold their house and made themselves homeless. Learn to hate the soul-less real estate agent that handled the sale. I can't wait until she finds a new house that they both want to buy. Think of the blog fodder that will create!
Be warned though, as tempting as it is, if you try to steal any of her stuff, you'll get one of these sporks right in the eye.
Saturday, December 09, 2006
I am to reveal six things about me that I believe to be weird. There isn't that much that is odd about me. . . . I am just about as normal as they come . . . but let's think a minute.
1. I must have had my squeamish gland removed when I was little. I can stand all sorts of uncooked foods, blood, goo, gunk, mouldy things etc. . . . I also have no squeamish feelings when it comes to snakes and mice. I was that rotten kid who used to catch them and chase all the other kids around while holding onto one or more snakes by the head. I used to grab mice out of the feed bin when we lived on our small "ranch" in North Dakota but they bit so I stopped doing that pretty quickly.
2. I can't stand stairs that are "see-through" or have no riser between the steps. This includes most metal stairs. Actually, I don't like stairs much at all. I must have fallen down them as a tot. If I have to walk down stairs, I clutch the handrail quite firmly. Ladders, fine - stairs - nope.
3. I have a fantastic internal compass and spookily accurate sense of direction. I'll get us back out of the maze that is a North African medina (covered market) in no time. I only ever have to be a place once to remember how to get there forever more. However, if you say, "take a left" and I don't have time to think about it, there is every chance that I'll turn right instead. I still get left and right mixed up. Visiting South Africa and being in the Southern Hemisphere completely wrong-footed me. Had I been there a bit longer, I would have figured it out, but for two weeks, I hated not knowing instinctively north from south.
4. I'm not claustrophobic but I can't stand anything tight around my neck. Not anything.
5. Being startled and loud noises can make me cry.
6. um . . . .I'm struggling here . . . . . I've just remembered something! I have a thing about how clothes are folded and how they are pegged out on the clothes line. I can't bear them to be done other than how I fold or peg out. If The Man of the Place hangs the clothes out on the line, I will go out and re-hang them on the washing line. I will also re-fold the clothes that he has folded, but only mine. His mis-folded clothes can stay that way. It is only ME that has the problem with the way he does these things. I also have to have all the towels folded in equal thirds (a hangover from my Navy days).
I now tag:
You're under no obligation here - but it would be great to see what you've got hidden
Friday, December 08, 2006
Innes (Bill's owner, our neighbour and friend) picked Bill up later on in the morning. Henry and I said that if Bill wanted to live here, we were okay about it, but I don't think Innes wants to give up his dog. He said that Bill is about 15 years old. He thought that as he was now mostly blind, he'd stop his wandering.
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
I handed the camera over to George once we had decided where we wanted to go. He took all the photos inside the museum.We love Winged Victory. There is always a crowd around her. There is always a crowd around this beauty too:Have you noticed that neither of these classic representations of beauty aren't skinny? I bet that if these women were flesh and bone instead of marble, they wouldn't be able to find a single dress to fit them in all of Paris. I take great comfort in that.
By the way, they've moved Mona Lisa to a larger room that isn't as "tucked away" as before. There is better access and consequently, a much more pleasant experience.
My personal favourites are the large format French paintings by David and Delacroix.Liberty Leading the People - Eugene Delacroix
Coronation of Napoleon -Jacques-Louis David
I am constantly astounded by Napoleon's ego!
It wasn't long after this photo was taken that we took off to get some lunch. A cheese and wine soaked affair!
Monday, December 04, 2006
We trudged around the loftier portion of Montmartre seeing famous landmarks, walking past famous places, the vineyard, dodging dog mess on the pavements and then what do you know, it was time for lunch.
Lunch was at La Pomponette on Rue Lapic. Classic French cuisine! We ate and drank like kings. I could barely move after lunch. It was all I could do to waddle back to the flat for a little nap. Mom was given more of her birthday presents, one of which was a wonderful bottle of champagne from a co-worker in Washington. I'm so glad she shares!
George at Newcastle airport
George and Mom at one of the outside tables at Le Sancerre
It was great to finally get there! I gulped down a couple of glasses of the excellent Cote du Rhone that they keep and then I was ready to unpack and hit the hay.
This is what we saw from the back window. The whole of Paris with the Eiffel tower smack in the middle of the view. At night,on the hour, the lit tower sparkles for ten minutes. So pretty!
The next day was my mother's birthday so I wanted to rest up in preparation!
Thursday, November 30, 2006
This is all in honour of my mother's 70th birthday.
Sunday, November 26, 2006
The other morning, I think it was Thursday. I sprang from my bed at about seven. My normally quiet dog Polly was barking. It was a scary, there-is-an-intruder sort of bark.
I went to the back door with the dog behind me and shouted out, "Is anybody there?" Silence. I then said in a loud clear voice, "I'm letting the dog out!" Then this ancient black border collie came around from behind one of the cars. Polly pushed past me and ran out to this dog. She immediately starting licking the face of this old timer and the two of them dashed off around the side of the house to the front garden, the older dog forgetting that he is old.
I'm sure you remember me mentioning our neighbours that have a sheep farm up the road. Innes and his son Gordon (George's best pal). They've lived on this road their whole lives. Well, their old working dog Bill has become a regular visitor here at Whitelees.
Bill is a border collie and a proper working dog that sleeps outside in the barn. He has never been a pet. He is properly ancient now, walking in that stiff arthritic way old dogs walk. It is heartbreaking to look at his face. There aren't many white hairs on his muzzle but his eyes are very milky. Bill is all but blind. He comes to us by using his memory, nose and hearing. This morning's visit makes the third time this week that he has come for a visit. I think he slept in the smaller greenhouse last night. (the greenhouse where I grow my tomatoes). I'd let him come in the house but he smells.
I've just sent Innes a text to let him know where his dog is. They'll probably tie Bill up now. That's a shame because yesterday when Bill didn't visit, Polly went looking for him. I think they're firm friends. I like old Bill and I don't mind that he comes to see us but I understand that it will be dangerous for a blind dog to be walking down a dark country road to visit his lady love.
Thursday, November 23, 2006
- my whole family is alive and healthy
- we all have a warm place to live
- we all have food to eat
- we have clean water to drink
- we are fortunate enough to be able to travel
- I love my husband
- he loves me
- I love my children
- and I know they love me
- we have some fantastic friends
- we have a great house
- I love living in our village
- I love living in Scotland
- we got to dive in the Red Sea this year
- I love my new dog Polly
- I started this blog this year
- the blog got me writing again
- the blog got me back in touch with some old friends
- the blog connected me to some new and frankly, fabulous people
I hope each and every one of you have a nice Thanksgiving. If you don't celebrate Thanksgiving, just have a think about all you have to be thankful for
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
As we wait for the work to be completed, we soldier on with the old coal fired stove. To supplement the stove that runs our six radiators, we have a couple of fireplaces. When all three fires are going, the coal fire and the two wood fires, there is lots of hauling to be done, coal from the coal bunker and wood from the woodpile. In the morning, lots of ash needs to be cleaned out.
Over the weekend, when the mercury had dropped and the rain was coming in pretty hard, I was bringing in lots of wood for the fires.
This time of year, it seems that we only enjoy about four hours of natural daylight. I seem to slip into this semi-hibernation state as I wait for mid-December and the daylight starts its slow creep to longer hours. Out where we live it gets pretty dark at night. There is no light pollution from anything as fancy as a streetlight and when it is clear you can see every single constellation. It's amazing really. I prefer it that way and I would argue against anybody putting streetlights out our way. However, if it is a cloudy moonless night you won't be able to see your hand in front of your face.
I'm not scared of the dark anymore and I'm not frightened to walk around outside at night in the dark. I have been known to walk home from the village at night with only the light from the moon to show me where the road is. Its actually quite peaceful. There aren't any big bitey animals in Scotland that might jump on me. The last of those animals were shot in the 18th century. I just have to be pretty good about keeping things picked up around the outside of the house to minimise tripping hazards.
I was going out into our super dark night to get firewood and the only light I had was the light spilling out from the window on the east side of the house where the woodpile lives. When I go out at night to get an armload of firewood, I have to just go by feel. I can't hold a torch (flashlight) and collect firewood at the same time. I do however make things easy for myself by gathering the wood that I can see. The one problem with doing that is that now there is a big dip in the stack of firewood where the light falls on it at night. I'm going to have to move the firewood around so that there is always some in the area that gets lit.
Saturday, November 18, 2006
Are we all sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin:
Years ago, shortly after we had moved here and George was a toddler, I used to help out twice a day at the farm up the road. I helped with the cows and calves. It involved letting the cows into the dairy barn, tying them up in stalls, feeding them and then letting their calves out to suckle. My neighbour and I used to stand our little boys (eight weeks apart in age) on the opposite side of the dairy barn to where we were working, out of harm's way and get on with our work. The boys used to move some of the hay and feed around in their chubby little toddler fists. George didn't care for the cows the first couple of times we did this, but he got used to them. As long as they didn't want to sniff him, he was okay. Once the calves were fed, they were put back in their big straw filled pen in the barn and the cows were let back out in the field.
From time to time, I would bring a bowl from my kitchen that had been scalded and milk one of the cows (Jenny) before we let the calves in. In exchange for the milk, I'd bring some eggs from my hens. Back then I kept my chickens indoors during the winter where I could keep a light on. With the light on, they laid eggs through the dark winter. It was a good trade. A big mixing bowl full of fresh milk for six nice fresh eggs.
Through the autumn and into the winter, it was part of our daily routine to walk the quarter mile to the barn and tend to the cows and calves. As the winter grew colder, we just bundled up warmer. George and our little neighbour pal Gordon had practical all-in-one waterproof boiler suits. This cut down on the washing considerably, keeping their winter coats cleaner for longer. I really like the smell of hay and silage when I'm forking it into the troughs.
One winter morning, we awoke to piles and piles of snow. I love snow and I couldn't wait to get out in it. As the roads were closed and the older boys couldn't go to school. It could have been a weekend. It's been so long now, I can't remember. I left George at home with his big brothers. The snow was too deep for his short legs and I didn't fancy carrying him. I started making my way up the road. I had put my waterproof over-trousers on and didn't tuck them into my wellies as I normally did. Snow inside wellies is unpleasant.
As I shuffled up the road, our part of the world was a winter wonderland. It was covered in fresh white snow and all the sounds seemed to be muffled. I was blazing a new path through the snow. There hadn't been a single car or tractor up or down our road. The only marks in the snow were from clumps of snow that had fallen from the branches, tiny animals and me.
When I got to the farm, I noticed that there weren't any other tracks in the snow yet. I was the first person there. Charlie, the bachelor farmer who lives there wasn't up and out yet. My neighbour who lived across the road from this farm hadn't shown up yet either. I shuffled around the farm yard, getting feed for the cows and making paths for others to follow. Our neighbour's eight year old daughter had a new pony that she was required to clean and feed each morning. I shuffled a path in the snow for her too. I wasn't going to shovel a path for everyone, that takes too long and the cows were hungry!
I started in with the work when my neighbour showed up. Pink cheeked and out of breath we worked away. I asked if she came by herself and she said that she had. It was too cold and snowy for the children and she'd take care of the pony afterwards for her daughter. It was then that we heard a man singing in the big shed next to the dairy barn. It must be that Charlie was up and feeding his dogs. He didn't normally sing, but then it doesn't normally snow here. I shouted over to say hello to Charlie. No reply. I shouted again. Silence. I asked my neighbour if she had heard the singing. Yes, she had. Odd. I wonder who that was.
We both definitely heard a man (an older man's voice) singing a song. Neither of us could make out what was being sung, but we heard singing.
When we finished with the cows and calves, we went out into the yard. No footprints in the snow to the shed where we heard the singing. No footprints other than ours.
That's my one and only ghost story.
This is a photo of Gordon and George from the spring following that winter with all the snow.
It is a shame that the neighbours don't need help next door anymore. I really liked doing it. I guess they've moved on from that. I've moved on too. Looking back is nice though. George and I used to have such nice walks up and down our road. The barn that was used for the cows and calves eventually fell down. It was a beautiful old stone barn too. The slate roof and the stone from the walls were sold off after it was knocked down. The old shed where Charlie kept his dogs is still there, but there no dogs in it anymore.
Some winter morning, if it snows, I may just take a walk up to where the old barn used to be to see if I can hear anybody singing.
Friday, November 17, 2006
Based on the above happening, we knocked that hole through the front room, connecting the extension with the rest of the house. It is now mid-November, the door that should be in the new doorway isn't there and the heating system is still in non-functioning pieces.
It was about 50 F in the house when I got home from work.
I promptly lit the fire in the new stove out in the extension, lit the open fire here by the computer and tended to the fire in the stove that was ticking away while we were out.
The radiators are now all going but nothing is making a dent in the cold just yet. MAN! I can't wait for this to be finished!
We've actually been colder than this before.
When we first bought Whitelees, we though we would die of exposure in the house that first winter.
It was a hard winter. We didn't realize how crap the windows would be at keeping the weather out. The houseplants that didn't die from frost damage had their leaves flapping in the draught. There was frost on the inside of those bad windows too. The olive oil went cloudy in the kitchen cupboard and the dishwashing soap jelled up. I used to have to warm up the soap in the dishwater to get it to a squirting consistency. My mother visited us that first winter. She said that she had never been so cold IN a house before. She keeps her house cool by choice, but that was outrageous!
After surviving that first winter, we got all new windows around the entire house. Henry's mother (God rest her soul) paid for these new windows.
The next winter was bearable. We weren't quite as cold but nobody could say that we were warm. The following spring was when we installed cavity wall insulation around the house and we were set, good double glazed windows combined with extra insulation!
Winters following, we stayed pretty warm. As long as the coal fire in the stove doesn't go out, the radiators stayed warm. I am a master at banking up a coal fire so that it is still alive in the morning. All I have to do is shake the ash down a bit, add more coal, open the flu a bit and we're away.
The old coal stove runs six radiators and heats the domestic hot water. It doesn't do this with any great efficiency any more. Its old. We knew that the added burden of 100% more living space was going to be more than our old system could take. This is being confirmed by the fact that we are freezing!
We try to keep the doors closed to the un-needed part of the house and conserve the heat in the areas where we are.
Now that I've been home a couple of hours, and the fires I lit have had a chance to bite into the cold in the house, the thermometer says that it is 60 F in the hallway. I can live with that.